Category : Prison/Prison Ministry

(CT’s The Exchange) Karen Swanson–NORP Think and the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Truth: Ninety-seven percent of all cases are resolved through a plea bargain. If all cases went to trial, the criminal justice system would collapse. Pleas can be used to intimidate inmates or to get them to help with other cases. For example, a woman was offered a lighter sentence if she would be wired and placed in a dangerous situation to get information for the police. There are times when people plead guilty to a charge they did not commit so they can be released from incarceration. For them, each day increases the risk of losing their job, home, and most importantly with women, custody of their children.

One of the most infamous cases of this is Kalief Browder, who was sent to Rikers Island when he was 16 years old because he was accused of stealing a backpack. Although he never stood trial or was found guilty, he spent three years at the New York City jail complex, nearly two of them in solitary confinement. He was beaten by corrections staff and other inmates. He refused to accept a plea deal even though it would have meant his immediate release because he insisted on his innocence. Ultimately, prosecutors dropped the charge. Haunted by the trauma of his ordeal, he committed suicide at the age of 22.

As Christians, we should be NORPs, but not have NORP think when it comes to the criminal justice system. I hope you will not tune out conversations about mass incarceration. As scripture says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Prov.31:8-9).

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Law & Legal Issues, Prison/Prison Ministry

(Economist) Chinks of light When TED talks came to a British prison

Soaring performances of songs from “Cats” and “Les Misérables” are unusual fare for a prison. But on May 3rd an inmate at Leicester prison brought an audience to their feet with his renditions. The recital was part of a TEDx conference, a popular lecture series that had never before been held in a British jail. In the midst of a prisons crisis, with violence against inmates and officers at record levels and crippling staff shortages, the event is an encouraging example of smaller efforts to improve conditions.

On a stage covered in prisoners’ art, inmates thundered the words of Shakespeare. An officer recited his own poetry: “I could tell you tales that would make you laugh…tales that would turn your stomach, tales that would break your heart,” he intoned. Organising the event was a logistical nightmare, says Phil Novis, the governor at HMP Leicester. But the enthusiasm of all involved suggests it was worth it.

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Posted in Art, England / UK, Music, Prison/Prison Ministry, Theatre/Drama/Plays

ABC Nightline–Oscar-Nominated '13th' Documentary's Provocative Message

Watch it all. The film is available on Netflix for those interested.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Pastoral Theology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Theology

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Race/Race Relations, Theology

(NYT) A Prison Class in African Religion Attracts Students Beyond Its Walls

In many ways, the class that met here Tuesday night could be in any university in the United States. There were desks arranged in a circle to facilitate discussion. There were student presentations based on dense readings. And there was the faint buzzing from the fluorescent lights overhead.

But in other important respects, the class was anything but typical. Coils of razor wire glinted under security lights outside the window, and more than half the students wore the drab green uniforms that mark them as inmates in New York’s only maximum-security prison for women.

This was Union Theological Seminary’s course on African religions in the Americas. Six seminary students boarded a van in Manhattan over 16 weeks this fall, commuting about 35 miles north to reach the secure walls of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Part of a nationwide trend in prison education programs, it was a process that proved as educational and powerful for the graduate students as for the 10 inmates.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, Urban/City Life and Issues

(CT) How Churches Change the Equation for Life After Prison

Two blocks from the North Carolina Capitol, a dozen women are sitting on couches in a circle. Unmarked, with dark windows and fluorescent lights overhead, the upstairs room of Raleigh’s First Presbyterian Church smells musty and damp. Alice Noell’s Job Start program is in session, and the women are here to make sense of their lives.

The women currently live in the Raleigh Correctional Center for Women, which they leave five days a week to attend Noell’s 15-week course. Noell””an energetic and passionate teacher””isn’t speaking right now. Instead, she’s invited one of her former students to address a captive audience.

All of the women, equal numbers black and white, lean in as Miea Walker walks in, waves, and finds the recliner in the center of the circle. Walker, 45, was released from prison in March 2012, a date still fresh enough for her to drop the names of wardens and guards.

“I know what it feels like,” she says. “You feel like you can’t breathe. You’re in a box all day long.”

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Evangelicals, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Prison/Prison Ministry, Theology

(NYT) Britain Moves to Separate Radicalized Inmates From Other Prisoners

Convicts in British prisons who preach terrorism and extreme ideology to fellow inmates will be held in high-security “specialist units,” the government announced on Monday, amid efforts to crack down on Islamic radicalization in jails.

The announcement reflects an emerging trend in Europe to isolate terrorism convicts and influential extremists from the rest of the prison population. Prisons are often regarded as potential breeding grounds for would-be terrorists, particularly for young offenders serving sentences for crimes unrelated to terrorism but who nonetheless fall under the spell of older, charismatic inmates.

Last week, Anjem Choudary, one of Britain’s best-known Islamist activists, was found guilty of inviting support for the Islamic State. He could face a lengthy prison term.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Law & Legal Issues, Other Faiths, Pastoral Theology, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

([London] Times) Investigation reveals Muslim inmates raised funds for ”˜extremists’

Approval was given at a senior level of the prison service for Muslim inmates in British jails to raise money for an organisation linked to the alleged funding of terror attacks against Israel.

The discovery was made by an official probe into Islamist prison radicalisation that identified widespread failings at the top of the National Offender Management Service (Noms).

The Times revealed yesterday that state-appointed Muslim chaplains at more than ten prisons distributed extremist literature that encouraged the murder of apostates and contempt for fundamental British values.

It has now emerged that prisoners in at least four jails were encouraged by chaplains to participate in sponsored fundraising activities for “inappropriate” causes.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Other Faiths, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, Terrorism, Theology, Violence

(W Post) Anne Applebaum–No, Iran is not ”˜opening up’

Sanctions have been lifted on Iran, and a moment of change has arrived. President Obama has called this “a unique opportunity, a window, to try to resolve important issues.” The brilliant ex-diplomat Nicholas Burns has said we are at a “potential turning point in the modern history of the Middle East.” And of course they are right. The diplomacy of the Middle East will now change, for better or for worse, forever.

But be very wary of anyone who claims anything more, and certainly be careful of anyone who claims anything more for Iran itself. President Hassan Rouhani is not Mikhail Gorbachev, and this is not a perestroika moment. Iran is not “opening up” or becoming “more Western” or somehow more liberal. Maybe Iran’s foreign minister will now pick up the phone when John Kerry calls. But other than that, the nature of the Iranian regime has not altered at all.

On the contrary, the level of repression inside the country has grown since the “moderate” Rouhani was elected in 2013. The number of death sentences has risen. In 2014, Iran carried out the largest number of executions anywhere in the world except for China. Last year, the number may have exceeded 1,000. Partly this is because Iran’s chief justice has boasted of the eradication (i.e., mass killing) of drug offenders, many of whom are juveniles or convicted on dubious evidence.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Theology

(Reuters) Wife of Iran-held pastor hopes to rebuild her marriage amidst great struggle

Naghmeh Abedini is looking forward to reuniting next week with her husband, Saeed, the Iranian-American pastor freed on Saturday after more than three years in an Iranian prison.

But she’s not rushing the reunion.

In an interview at her parent’s home in Boise, Idaho on Wednesday, Abedini said that rebuilding their marriage after her husband’s imprisonment will take time.

The relationship, she said, has been strained in recent months by the publication of an email she sent to friends and supporters late last year. Her note described “physical, emotional, psychological and sexual” abuse by her husband, who she said was addicted to pornography.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Iran, Marriage & Family, Middle East, Missions, Pastoral Theology, Pornography, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Theology, Violence

Imprisoned Iranian Pastor Farshid Fathi finally released

anian Christian pastor Farshid Fathi was released on 21 December 2015 after five years in prison in Iran for his faith in Jesus Christ.

“We are deeply grateful for your faithful prayers for Farshid while he has been in prison,” Elam Ministries, whose mission is to help expand the church in the Iran region, said in a statement.

“We would like to request that you continue praying for Farshid today and in the coming weeks,” Elam said. “Please pray especially for protection, his family and his adjustment to life outside prison.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Defense, National Security, Military, Foreign Relations, Iran, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture

(CC) Jason Byassee–How the documentary "Chaplains" raises the issue of ecclesiology

A chaplain’s job is to serve the spiritual needs of everyone in his or her care. A Buddhist chaplain in Oregon has to provide amplifiers for evangelical praise music, drums for Native American circles, and a priest and wafers for mass. When a chaplain for Tyson Foods insists that the job isn’t just to patch people up so they can go out and make more money for Tyson, one has to wonder: Would Tyson pay for a chaplain if the chaplain’s presence weren’t profitable in some way? Would the army, the hospital, or the prison pay for chaplains if they didn’t serve their respective causes? Shouldn’t the local church minister to its members and communities rather than outsource personnel to secular institutions?

One military chaplain in the film tells of soldiers in Iraq coming to him to ask if their souls are endangered. We can only imagine what sorts of things they’ve done in our name. He reassures them that their souls are not in danger: if they’ve followed lawful orders, the culpability for giving those orders is on the head of those who issued them. But can we be so sure? Should the church dispense such assurance so glibly? Could a chaplain who responded “I don’t know” to that question keep her job? And isn’t “I don’t know,” at least in some cases, a more truthful response?

I’m more sympathetic to prison chaplaincy. In a nation that warehouses 2.2 million people, some of the only outsiders who care about the incarcerated come from religious communities. The film follows the work of Calvary Chapel of Southeast Portland, which treats the Oregon prison almost like a campus of its church. Its members offer instant relationship, social capital, and material help when prisoners are released.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ecclesiology, Economy, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government, Theology

(W Post) The stunningly simple idea that could change solitary confinement as we know it

It began with a painting, a biologist and an idea to disprove the widely-held axiom that trees are static. The biologist first affixed a paintbrush to a tree branch, set it to a canvas and watched it sketch. She then multiplied the length of that tree’s stroke by every branch in its crown. In the course of a year, the biologist learned, the tree would move 187,000 miles ”” or seven times across the globe. This seemingly immobile thing was actually in constant motion.

The drawing and its implications would ultimately spark a program that has infiltrated some of the most impenetrable prisons in the nation, attracted international attention, and earned a spot on TIME Magazine’s list of best inventions. Called the Nature Imagery Project, it transports the soothing elements of nature into supermax prisons to help ease the psychological stress of solitary confinement.

The project is rooted in an idea that even the most static entities ”” like trees, like inmates in solitary confinement ”” have the capacity for change. “Prisoners seem to be these people who will never change,” said the biologist, Nalini Nadkarni, a professor at the University of Utah. “They will always be violent, always a burden on society. But if we can change our perspective, we can see that people can move even if they seem stuck.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Prison/Prison Ministry

(Atlantic) How Should America Deal With the Sinners in Its Prisons?

Dammer, the University of Scranton professor, said people are often skeptical of religious people in prisons, and particularly those who convert behind bars. “The common thought by correctional officers or people who run prisons or even the general public is that people who are involved in religion in prison because ”¦[they] think they’ll get parole easy or earlier,” he said. This isn’t really the case, he said; especially as states have moved away from indeterminate sentencing, or prison terms that involve a range of possible lengths, this kind of pious performance hasmattered less for helping people get parole.

“Do some inmates use religion in prison in a manipulative way? Absolutely. They do it to meet women at services, they do it to get goods and services,” he said. “Most of them, though, don’t do it for this myth””just to get out of prison. They do it to help them live in prison in a way that helps them survive.”

Religious figures play various roles in prisons. Institutions will usually have hired chaplains on staff, sometimes euphemistically called “faith representatives.” These chaplains often oversee groups of volunteers who come into prisons to run bible studies and other programs. In one prison that Dammer studied, “the only contact [inmates] had with anybody was with the chaplains, who would walk up and down the hallways and read the bible. [Otherwise], it was 23 hours a day of total solitary confinement.”

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Other Churches, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Pope Benedict XVI, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology

David Brooks–the Mass Incarceration Problem is not caused by what most Think

…research suggests that while it’s true that lawmakers passed a lot of measures calling for long prison sentences, if you look at how much time inmates actually served, not much has changed over the past few decades. Roughly half of all prisoners have prison terms in the range of two to three years, and only 10 percent serve more than seven years. The laws look punitive, but the time served hasn’t increased, and so harsh laws are not the main driver behind mass incarceration, either.

So what does explain it? Pfaff’s theory is that it’s the prosecutors. District attorneys and their assistants have gotten a lot more aggressive in bringing felony charges. Twenty years ago they brought felony charges against about one in three arrestees. Now it’s something like two in three. That produces a lot more plea bargains and a lot more prison terms.

I asked Pfaff why prosecutors are more aggressive. He’s heard theories. Maybe they are more political and they want to show toughness to raise their profile to impress voters if they run for future office. Maybe the police are bringing stronger cases. Additionally, prosecutors are usually paid by the county but prisons by the state, so prosecutors tend not to have to worry about the financial costs of what they do.

Read it all from the New York Times Op-ed page.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Children, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Prison/Prison Ministry, Psychology, Theology